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Environmentalists Challenge US Presidential Candidates to Make Climate Change a Priority

A new U.S. president takes office on January 21, 2009. Delegates attending the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference earlier this month offered some advice for the incoming chief executive on renewable energy and other environmental priorities.

Bill Becker has a plan for Day One. Becker heads the Presidential Climate Action Project at the University of Colorado, a non-partisan coalition that calls for bold political action on climate change.

"Our mission in this project is to provide the next president with a plan to act within the first 100 days and get as much accomplished as we can both legislatively, but also with presidential executive authorities," he said.

Becker says the plan advocates immediate steps to reduce emissions, increase fuel efficiency, end subsidies on fossil fuels and create laws that put a price on carbon.

"Many of these proposals get down into what agencies can do at the most intricate level to help solve this problem," he said.

Roger Ballentine is a former official with the Clinton White House. He says climate change should be a top-priority for the next president, but is uncomfortable with the 100-day action model. Ballentine advises the new president to take a pragmatic approach for getting things done.

"Purely from an environmental perspective the worst outcome is doing nothing, and every day that we do nothing we increase the magnitude and risk and ultimate cost of the problem," he said.

The U.S. did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, in part because the treaty did not require major developing nations like China and India to comply with emissions reduction targets.

Jonathan Shrier is a member National Security Council under President Bush. He says a White House initiative to engage the major polluting nations - from both developed and developing countries - began last December. He says the goal is not to subvert a new post-Kyoto agreement, but to contribute to it.

"I think that the key point is that the need for the world's largest economies, the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases, to talk collectively in parallel or in collaboration is going to live on. I certainly hope that we find a way to keep this going," he said.

Roger Ballentine says that plan may require some refinement by the next president. "And it could end up being basically the same thing, but you are going to have to take the Bush stamp off it and put a 'whatever' [president] stamp on it," he said.

Ballentine also recommends a private sector "business-to-business track" of the major economies effort.

Bill Becker says the Presidential Climate Action Plan details a 'G-8 plus Five' scheme in which polluters from developing countries make early commitments, but defer immediate action.

"The G-8 countries would commit to two percent reductions a year between 2010 and 2020 and then the five largest developing countries would kick in with two percent reductions all the way to 2050 and then eventually mid-century the smaller developing countries would be obligated to begin cutting as well," he said.

Becker says the compromise would help get both developed and developing countries more engaged on climate problems.

Jonathan Shrier says within the president's first six months, a plan must be readied for the next round of climate negotiations that will set a post-Kyoto agenda.

"The thought that a new administration of either party could hit the ground running and radically change the course of the international negotiations is unlikely in the extreme," he said.

Shrier adds that the plan must work no matter who is in the White House next January.

Bill Becker says that can happen if the transition planning starts earlier, even before the election. He says the Presidential Climate Action project he directs has already identified the climate sensitive positions that need to be filled and a talent pool ready to take those jobs for the new president.